14 October 1863: “The President has been here for some time…”

Item Description: Letter, dated 14 October 1863, from Lafayette McLaws to his wife.  He discusses a visit from President Jefferson Davis, family affairs, weather, and troop movements.

[transcription available below images]

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Item citation: From folder 8 of the Lafayette McLaws Papers, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  

Item transcription:

Head Quarters Division

Camp near Chattanooga

October 14th/63

My dear wife,

John E. returned this morning, no it was yesterday, bringing me two collar undershirts, some butter, some apples, my boots and some preserves for all of which you have my best thanks and some [?], if you could get them.  and with them came some fine sweet potatoes presents from the children, for those kiss them all for me and thank them for for their kind remembrance.  Thank Mary Jane for her portion of the gift, and tell her that I promise something in return.

I was very much annoyed at your proposition to send Willie away from you.  I can understand that your fear was behind your judgement, and that you were unselfish enough to wish that your children should be away from the danger, and that your first wish carried your thoughts to your first born.  But Willie is of all the children the most helpless and unable to bear the absence of his mother.  He is so [retired?] in his habits and so much wanting in perseverance, of that kind which pushes one along in the world, and so little disposed to make acquaintances, and [?] so much nursing that he would suffer more than any other person of the children, by being away from you. And the constant thinking of what might happen to him, and the fear that he would not [bear?] those about him who would sympathize in his little peculiarities would render both you and myself unhappy.  I wrote to Bet about the children having notions put in their heads to leave their parents and wander off, thus making them disatisfied with their portion and condition.  In times like these we must all learn economy and try to be Contented. Try in every conceivable way to make the best of our circumstances, and to act so as contribute to the happiness of each other.  I can do but little towards your enjoyment, except that matter what may be my occupation or my [troubles?], I try always to write encouragingly and cheerfully. My chief pleasure is to hear that you are well and happy, and if I find that you or the children are discontented, I feel as if something might happen to let you all know that this bitter cup has not come upon you yet.  It makes me tremble to be discontented with my lot, when I look around and see the misery and suffering, everywhere else in comparison to which my lot is blessed indeed.

It has been raining nearly forty eight hours without intermission.  The whole country is covered with water, the [creeks?] are impossible, and our animals are tied to their stakes without food, it being impossible to cross Chicamauga river, which is between us and two station where supplies can be obtained.  Many of my command are without tents and hundreds are without blankets and shoes.  Added to these wants, the ration is not sufficient, and hundreds are sick.  This seems to be a most detestable climate and the men are suffering by the change from Virginia, where there was order and system and satisfaction and a fine country with a fine climate.

The President has been here for some time, ever [?] to settle the difficulties among the Generals.  I called on him and paid my respects and rode along in his train when he inspected the troops, but I have no acquaintance with him.  I have never spoken twenty words to him and to tell you the truth I do not admire him, although he is about the best man we have.  He is not [des-posed?] enough for the times.  His authority is not sufficiently felt to corect existing evils and his manners are cold and repelling. I hope he may be able to settle the difficulties, so as to make the [?] homogeneous, but I doubt it very much.  The recent [rains?] must give us a heavy [sin?] in the Tennessee river and will delay our movements as well as retard those of the enemy.  I have never seen a pertinacious rain than we now have, it is without intermission.

I believe that now both of the contesting parties are beginning to be [? ?] Chattanooga is the place to strike for ascendancy and both sides are bringing forward their forces towards this point.  We must wait and see what developments time will make, perhaps the rain now falling is for our special benefit, may be for the [evening?]. Perhaps something may turn up in Europe for our benefit.  France may recognise us and give active assistance. There may be a political revolution at the North, which will be of some assistance.  General Lee may beat the enemy in Virginia, a we may damage him [? ?] seriously. There is always grounds for hope, and there are so many instances of good fortune coming to us, when we have no reason to expect any . [?] the motto should even be “Never despair!”  So be of good cheer and write often.  Keep the children satisfied and do not allow Bet to be coaxing them away to Kentucky or Missouri.  If any one of the children should go, if should be Laura, for it is all important that she should be taught a [barrel?] of personal accomplishments and beliefs, which it will take her some time to learn where she is.  It is an old saying that if there is but one daughter in a family and two or three boys, the girl will be rough in her manners, showing the want of female associations.  The same can be perceived in Laura already, and I ascribe it to that cause.  But this is no time to risk her departure, unless under peculiarly fortunate circumstances.  But tis now late and I must to bed.  Give my love to the children, with much love and many kisses.  John E. comes back full of Johnny’s saying & doings.  My best love to Bet and my devoted love & many kisses to my dear wife from her devoted husband.


Give my love to sister if she is with you and if an opportunity appears, give my [ranks?] to Mr. [Oxan?] for the very firm cheese to be sent here.

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